As the bulk of the nation starts to work from home, what effect can this have on wellbeing and mental health?

With the country entering a lockdown phase, we are all being asked to stay home and only venture out on essential journeys.

This self-isolation will take some getting used to and people will quickly get beyond the ‘holiday-mode’ feeling that some seem to have eagerly embraced.

As a mental health first aider, this is where I wonder how the current Coronavirus pandemic will affect us and I would therefore urge everyone to show as much compassion and tolerance as possible in these strange and difficult times.

It is also important to find time for some mindfulness as well

Martin Fahey2 Martin Fahey Head of Sustainability

Panic buying

It is easy for example, to condemn those panic buying as being guilty of selfishness, but the urge to panic buy is often the result of a primal urge to try and take control in a completely uncontrollable situation. 

It takes great restraint to avoid stockpiling when you see everyone else apparently doing it, so it is worth reminding ourselves that we are all in this together, even if some of the actions of others seem counter intuitive to you.

The problem at the moment is that fear has become the biggest motivator as evidenced by those overbuying soap for themselves hoping it will protect them, whilst potentially depriving others who will then be unable to wash their own hands and keep themselves (and potentially you) safe.

It shouldn’t therefore be mocked or condemned as, to a greater of lesser degree, we can all be guilty of this fear.

Mental health

Remember also that mental health issues were on the rise long before any of us had even heard of COVID-19 or the term ‘self-isolation’.

Times like these are difficult for all of us but for those with existing mental issues, it can be doubly hard, which is why I’m asking everyone to show more compassion, as you simply don’t know who is affected and how.

If you suffer from anxiety for example, seeing so many people getting tense and anxious around you can make your own anxiety a lot worse.

Those suffering from depression will really not benefit from so much talk of death and illness and for anyone with OCD, discussion around hand washing and sanitation could increase fear and lead to dark, obsessive thoughts.

People with an existing eating disorder may also struggle when they see so many people stock up on food and this could traumatise them and even trigger them to slip back into their old behaviours.

Worrying times

Even if you don’t consider yourself as having any issues with your own mental health, many people do and these may well be hidden from view, so please be mindful and even more considerate and compassionate than usual.

This not only goes for friends, family and neighbours but also work colleagues, many of who will be coming to terms with the loss of a major part of their ‘social’ life.

It may sound strange but when you consider how much time we all normally spend with our work colleagues, NOT spending time with them can seem very strange, regardless of how much we think we do or don’t ‘know and love’ them.

It is therefore as good for yourself as them to keep in regular contact.  It is easy to get lonely when working from home, whether you live alone or not. Your family are unlikely to know the ins and outs of your job and your company as much as your colleagues are, so find regular time to keep in touch.

Make time each day to have a conversation, whether that is with individuals or as a team. Your colleagues need to know ‘you’ve got their back’ and you need to know they’ve got yours!

Keeping busy, focused and also relaxed

My colleague Russell Jones has written about keeping your working day on track and it is indeed important to keep your mind busy and occupied. Not only will this help with your mental wellbeing, finding something to do and achieve each day is a great way of ensuring that the days don’t just blend into each other.

But there is more to it than just getting job satisfaction whilst out of the office and it is also important to find time for some mindfulness as well, however and wherever you find that.

The BBC has some useful links and stories of how other people are coping with self-isolation.

Many people seem to be planning to fill up the time watching boxsets but lots of others are taking the time to learn new skills.

Perhaps now is the time to take up that hobby you always said you would if you had the time, whether that is learning the piano, taking up knitting, learning German, coding, cooking, mechanics, you name it.

Or get socialising digitally using platforms such as Netflix Party which allows you to synchronise with friends to watch a film together.

You can also challenge your family, friends and neighbours to play boardgames you’d normally play in person such as Monopoly and Scrabble and Apps such as HouseParty let you hold group video chats, so you can digitally hold your own concert, group discussion or party.

Whatever you do though, make sure you keep in touch with people.

Healthy body, healthy mind

It’s also important to make sure that you exercise during this house-bound period. Get outdoors safely to your garden or the nearest open space that doesn’t mean bumping into others, so that you can get some fresh air and even some sunlight on your face.

If you can’t get out then working out in a small space means you will need to be creative but there are many online fitness classes that can help, such as Body Coach, Joe Wicks, who holds daily fitness classes on Youtube.

It is also important to take time out to relax in whatever way you can, whether that is yoga, pilates, meditation or other mindfulness techniques.

Plan a routine as much as possible but also, take each day as it comes and don’t think too much about being ‘stuck’ inside as it can become overwhelming to think about being inside for long periods.

You might want to avoid radio and TV as they will be full of the latest COVID-19 news so if you find music the best way to relax then there are several platforms offering online streams that have already been put together for you such as Spotify or this one on Billboard.com

Getting further help

It is worth reminding ourselves that we are not going through this alone, so don’t feel afraid of picking up the phone to speak to a colleague, friend or family member when you do feel anxious or a little down. They will probably be glad to hear from you and may even want to share their own anxiety so you can help reassure each other.

When I did my Mental Health First Aider training, we were told to see ourselves as a link between the person and the issues they are experiencing and the professionals who know what to do to help further.

So finally, if there are issues that you or someone you know is struggling to deal with, it is worth getting in touch with the professionals, whether that this is your own GP – by phone of course, or the anonymity of someone like the Samaritans.

Just bear in mind that everyone will be working to the same conditions and we are all trying our best to get through these first few weeks.

Until we get beyond this, keep home, keep safe and keep well.

 

Martin Fahey is Head of Sustainability